Today is the last day of Laila Ibrahim’s weeklong Author Highlight, Don’t forget to enter the giveaway as it ends in a few hours. A few days ago I posted the interview questions and today She’ll be answering our questions.
Don’t forget to download the sample chapter as well as enter the giveaway to win a free copy of her book.
- Was any part of Living Right drawn from personal experience?
I’m gay, so coming out to my parents and the world has some of the same overtones as Josh’s experience without the explicit religious component. Coming out in a liberal context in the 1980’s required a lot of educating of people.
- Who/what inspired Pastor Jerry?
I watched a lot of videos of leaders in the conversion therapy movement. He’s an amalgamation of those people with a little Ned Flanders from the Simpson thrown in.
- What chapter was the toughest to write?
The scene where Steve and Jenn talk to Josh in his room, where he’s hiding under the covers. My heart ached for all of them. There is so much love between them and I knew it was about to be misdirected in a way that was going to be very hurtful.
- What chapter was your favorite?
The epilogue, I can just enjoy the family at that point. I’m so happy that they can just be honest and whole. That scene was drawn from a time we said goodbye to our daughter, Maya, at SFO, so it makes me cry for that reason too.
- Who/what inspired Jenn?
She’s a combination of me and one of my relatives who is evangelical. I’m religious, but Unitarian Universalist which is a very liberal faith tradition. I’m very certain like Jenn, just on the opposite spectrum when it comes to social values and politics. Like Jenn, I found being the parent of adolescents a humbling experience. I had to surrender and have faith in my children, and our connection.
- Did you plan Maya’s character or was she just a convenient way to show Jenn’s growth?
When I was researching the book, I watched a documentary about the ex-gay movement. A mom spoke about her son’s suicide and the pain she lives with knowing that she only added to his distress by praying with him for transformation. Then I found the website NALT which played out biblically based arguments for accepting LGBTI people. Maya draws from those.
- How much research did you do?
Compared to Yellow Crocus, hardly any! But, surprisingly, there was still a lot I couldn’t remember about the times even though I was writing about the previous decade. What phones were available? Could you register for the SAT online? How many megapixels in a camera? Those were all things I had to look up.
- What was the weirdest thing you googled while researching/ planning Living Right?
I was very creeped out by Googling how many sleeping pills does it take to kill you. I really didn’t want to know if there are instructions on the internet. I ended up asking a neighbor who is a doctor about it.
- Yellow Crocus is a hit! Do you anticipate the same for Living Right?
Fingers crossed! I wasn’t sure it would be as well received because Jenn is a harder main character to like. But, I think it’s as important a story. I know it’s not for everyone, but I believe there are people for whom it will resonate or be eye opening.
- What made you decide to write Living Right from Jenn’s POV rather than Josh’s?
I almost wrote it from Sara’s point of view but realized that to have empathy for Jenn it needed be from her point of view. I really wanted to know what would make a parent make the kinds of choices she and Steve made. Once I was in her head it made sense, even though I disagreed with her, I understood where she was coming from.
- What character is your favorite and why?
I think Sara, though it’s not an easy choice for me. Josh is so great, so is Steve. I love how loyal Sara was to Josh, seeing him in the hospital and taking him in when he needed a safe place to be. She started talking and thinking about reconciling her faith with Josh’s orientation and was able to give him guidance and support that was literally lifesaving for him, even though you don’t see it “on camera.”
- Where there any alternate endings you considered?
I really wanted to get to that ending. The only other possibility is one where Jenn stayed rigid, but that would have meant the end of her marriage.
- What was left out in the final draft?
Nothing. I’m a very sparse writer. ‘Elaborate’, ‘add more’, ‘put in another scene’ are what I hear from editors. The very last scene I slipped in is the one at the track meet towards the end. I love it, and I’m glad an editor asked me to show a little more family life before the ending.
- What challenges did you face in the production of Living Right?
The hardest part for me is pushing the final ‘done’ button. I know there are mistakes in the acknowledgements at the end, but I didn’t realize it until it would have delayed the publication date. I’m sure there are mistakes in the manuscript, but I don’t know what they are and that’s after dozens of edits.
- Did you consider publishing Living right with a traditional publisher?
Not really. I had two agents ask about representing me. I sent the manuscripts to them and when they turned it down I was fine. I really like the control I have as the publisher and the author, as well as how quickly I can get it out. I like that I chose the cover, how to promote it and price it. I won’t say no to Lake Union if they want the rights, but I’m not sure I’d go with a traditional publisher.
- What is your writing process like?
I do my best work on retreats. I like going away to the mountains for three or four nights. I submerge myself in the world of my novel. When I get back home, I can edit work that’s done on the retreat. I have a hard time doing first draft work in my house, although sometimes I have to.
- I hear a sequel to Yellow Crocus is in the works, what can we expect?
It will be set after the Civil War in Virginia. The research is very intense. Lisbeth will be going back to see her father before he dies. Her brother fought on the side of the confederacy while Matthew, her husband, fought on the Union side. You can imagine the tension. Mattie returns to Fair Oaks hoping to persuade her relatives to join her in Ohio, but there are personal and institutional stumbling blocks for leaving.
- What drew you to writing?
Mattie and Lisbeth’s story. I thought of it in a flash, and it haunted me for 7 years before I started putting fingers to the keyboard. I’m so grateful that I let their story guide my heart.
- Is there anyone you would like to say a special thanks to?
I’m grateful to my parents who taught me to be both determined and flexible. Their love for me fills me to this day.
- Any message you would like to pass to people similar to Josh, Jenn & Pastor Jerry?
Put love first.
And that’s it for this week’s Author Highlight, next week I’ll be featuring Wesley Rivers. Don’t forget to download a sample chapter from Living Right, you can also win a copy of the book by entering the giveaway to win one of three copies.